As I wrote last week, in my review of opening night, U2’s current tour has been able to come up with some surprises – things that surprised me, anyway, but I made it a point to steer clear of spoilers while the band was in rehearsals, before the tour began. One of those surprises is the live resurrection of “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)”, from U2’s 1991 album Achtung Baby. I find it especially surprising that the band would play “Ultra Violet” since the song was just in the spotlight less than a decade ago, on the 360 tour. It was greeted as a lot of fans as a surprise then, too, but I guess that the reception was so overwhelming positive that U2 decided not to wait another sixteen years between performances.
If I had to use one word to describe “Ultra Violet”, I think that a good word would be “intense”. The drums are hard and heavy, the guitar is persistently urgent-sounding , the bass throbs and moans like the pain of the broken-hearted, and Bono passionately wails over the whole thing. Yep, it’s all pretty intense, indeed, but still, in some ways, “Ultra Violet” feels like the perfect meeting point between the industrial rock of Achtung Baby and the experiemental euro-pop of the follow-up album, Zooropa. Despite the density of “Ultra Violet”, the heaviness of it, there’s a kind of haunting catchiness that I believe makes the song the fan-favorite that it is. It would be equally at home on top forty radio or an angsty teenager’s lonely late night playlist.
The lyrics of “Ultra Violet” are equally confounding. At times, like the intro, the words are bleak and weary feeling. “I wanna get it wrong – can’t always be strong” definitely sounds like a man who has tried his best to be good, to live by the rules, and has found that walking the straight and narrow has left his life empty and meaningless. It just now occurs to me that in some ways, this could partially describe the band’s state of mind while transitioning from the earnest, world-saving young men who recorded The Joshua Tree to the darker, more worldly human beings who we find on Achtung Baby. There are other parts of “Ultra Violet” that read like a more standard love song, but I don’t think that Bono is singing solely to Ali here. Certainly, the “Baby, baby, baby, light my way” refrain could be referring to Bono’s wife, but the song feels like more of a break-up to me. Like the man singing the song has lost that which lit the darkness for him. I believe that “Ultra Violet” is one of those songs that was inspired by Edge’s divorce from his first wife.
Now that the band has played several shows on their Joshua Tree 2017 Tour, I believe that’s safe to say that the fans who have attended those shows are receiving “Ultra Violet” with open arms. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised to hear the song stick around for the rest of the tour, and maybe the band will return to the song for the continuation of the Innocence + Experience Tour that I believe is forthcoming. The poppy aspect of the song makes it the perfect crowd pleaser even for an audience that isn’t made up entirely of diehard U2 fans.